US Special Forces 'Tried to Cover Up' Botched Khataba Raid in Afghanistan

Published on
by
TimesOnline/UK

US Special Forces 'Tried to Cover Up' Botched Khataba Raid in Afghanistan

by
Jerome Starkey, Kabul

Relatives at the graves of five people killed, including three women, during the night raid. (TimesOnline/UK)

US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims' bodies in
the
bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with
alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened, Afghan
investigators have told The Times.

Two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a police officer and his brother
were shot
on February 12 when US and Afghan special forces stormed their home in
Khataba village, outside Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. The precise
composition of the force has never been made public.

The claims were made as NATO admitted responsibility for all the deaths
for
the first time last night. It had initially claimed that the women had
been
dead for several hours when the assault force discovered their bodies.

"Despite earlier reports we have determined that the women were
accidentally
killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men," said
Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale, a NATO spokesman. The coalition
continued to deny that there had been a cover-up and said that its legal

investigation, which is ongoing, had found no evidence of inappropriate
conduct.

The Kabul headquarters of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of
US and
Nato forces, claimed originally that the women had been "tied up, gagged
and
killed".

A senior Afghan official involved in a government investigation told The

Times: "I think the special forces lied to McChrystal."

"Why did the special forces collect their bullets from the area?" the
official
said. "They washed the area of the injuries with alcohol and brought out
the
bullets from the dead bodies. The bodies showed there were big holes."

The official, who asked not to be named until the results of the
investigation
have been made public, said that the assault force sealed off the
compound
from 4am, when the raid started, to 11am, when Afghan officials from
Gardez
were finally allowed access to the house.

At least 11 bullets were fired during the raid, the investigator said,
and the
shooting was carried out by two American gunmen positioned on the roof
of
the compound. Only seven bullets were recovered from the scene.

"I asked McChrystal, ‘why did the Americans clean some of the bullets
from the
area?' They don't have the right to do that," the official said.

Haji Sharabuddin, the head of the family who were attacked, told The
Times

last month that troops removed bullets from his relatives' bodies, but
his
claims were impossible to verify. The hallway where four of the five
victims
were killed had been repainted and at least two bullet holes had been
plastered over.

Video footage of the raid's aftermath, collected by Afghan
investigators,
shows close-up shots of one man's bloodstained and punctured torso and
walls
with blood on them. The Afghan official's conclusion that the bullets
were
removed is based on the testimony of survivors, analysis of the
photographs
and the missing bullets.

NATO promised a joint forensic investigation in a statement issued after
the
raid, but Rear Admiral Greg Smith, the coalition's director of
communications in Afghanistan, said that this had proved impossible
because
the bodies were buried the same day in accordance with Islamic custom.

Instead Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior sent its top criminal
investigator
from Kabul, and a Canadian brigadier-general led a separate military
inquiry.

The Afghan investigation differed in one respect from The Times'
findings. Survivors told this newspaper that Saranwal Zahir, the police
officer's brother, was shot when he tried to shout that his family was
innocent. The women, who were crouching behind him, were killed in the
same
volley of fire. Afghan investigators believe that Mr Zahir was carrying
an
AK47 and wanted to avenge his brother's killers. The women were
clustered
around him, trying to pull him inside the house, when the second US
gunman
opened fire, killing all four of them.

Footage collected by the Afghan team also shows a man in United States
Army
uniform taking pictures of the bodies. The findings have not been made
public. The Interior Ministry is expected to pass a report to the
Attorney-General's office, which will decide whether or not it can press

criminal charges.

The family had more than 25 guests on the night of the attack, as well
as
three musicians, to celebrate the naming of a newborn child.

"In what culture in the world do you invite ... people for a party and
meanwhile kill three women?" asked the senior official. "The dead bodies

were just eight meters from where they were preparing the food. The
Americans, they told us the women were dead for 14 hours."

In a statement yesterday, Brigadier-General Eric Tremblay, a NATO
spokesman,
said: "We deeply regret the outcome of this operation, accept
responsibility
for our actions that night, and know that this loss will be felt forever
by
the families.

"The force went to the compound based on reliable information in search
of a Taliban insurgent, and believed that the two men posed a threat to their

personal safety. We now understand that the men killed were only trying
to
protect their families."

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